Patrick Kane’s Winter Games ($3), a new Olympic hockey game from Distinctive Games, hit the App Store in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The game is named for USA Hockey and Chicago Blackhawks player Patrick Kane. With his name headlining a video game, Kane joins a very select group of hockey players, which includes the likes of Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.
iOS sports games are often at a disadvantage from the start. Sure, they’re inexpensive, but the experience can’t compete with console sports simulation games, which benefit from precise controls, deeper strategies, and official league licensing, among a host of other features. Patrick Kane’s Winter Games tries to bridge the gap between arcade and simulation sports gaming, with mixed results.
The game offers three single-player modes of play — Face-Off for quick games, Winter Games for an Olympic-style hockey tournament, and Rivals Series, which lets players attempt to recreate great international hockey moments, like last year’s Canada-USA gold medal game. There are no multiplayer options.
Winter Games includes 18 different international teams, some of which didn’t make this year’s Olympics. Also, the game doesn’t feature NHL teams, despite Kane wearing a generic version of his Blackhawks jersey in the app icon. No player names are included, either, but it appears the game has accurate numbers representing players — the USA’s #88 would be Kane, Canada’s #87 is presumably Sidney Crosby, #68 on the Czech Republic must be Jaromir Jagr, and so on.
Winter Games positions itself somewhere between an arcade and simulation hockey game. Players have the opportunity of making strategic decisions before starting a game, though it’s hard to tell how much it really matters when everyone’s flying toward the net at every chance. The controls are simple — a virtual joystick on the left side, and three buttons on the right, two of which change from shooting and passing on offense to poke checking and body checking on defense. A sprint button is also there, whether you have the puck or you’re defending — its positioning next to the other buttons makes it a little awkward to use.
Controls feel more comfortable when on offense, but that’s a common issue in hockey games. Winter Games game moves fast enough for arcade-style hockey. We recommend turning off penalties — and possibly icing and offside — and embracing the arcade aspects of the game.
Both graphics and animation in the game are pretty slick. Sound effects are accurate and add to the game’s appeal. The game moves smoothly, and replays aren’t bad looking, either. We did see one strange incident during gameplay in which a player behind the goalie had the puck in the net, but the game didn’t register a goal — maybe because the puck was merely carried into the net, rather than shot? We found it to be an aberration, but concerning nonetheless.